By Rebecca Hurshman, Contributing Writer
You’re an employer, rifling through a stack of entry-level media résumés, when you do a double take: a 22-year-old with a degree from a private college in Kentucky has worked at the Olympics. Your immediate response is to pick up the phone to validate such outlandish claims. Your provided reference would most likely be Dr. Jim Owens, dean of the Asbury University School of Communication Arts. And he’d tell you it was true.
Owens’ beige office walls serve as a scrapbook of vibrant Olympic memorabilia. Nearly every surface pays homage to the 13 games he has attended. He said he knew that he wanted his students to be at the Olympics after his first experience at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games: “I learned more in two weeks, from people from all over the world…with the latest technology.” So when the president of the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) offered him the opportunity to incorporate Asbury students into the program that trains local students to work in broadcasting at each games, Owens said he jumped at the chance.
According to the Asbury Ambassador, the first games students attended was the 1984 Los Angeles Games. They have been to 12 out of the 16 total games since then, and according to Kentucky Monthly, Asbury is the only American university to consistently send students to work in media at the Olympic Games.
Owens attributes the repeated success of Asbury students to one thing: character. “[Our students] are competent in the field, they are easy to work with, they come in on time and they are nice people,” he said. According to Owens, once Asbury students began to build their reputation, they were in high demand.
This high demand eventually led an official contract with OBS. Created in 2006, Owens said the contract includes flights, lodging, food and even a daily rate for 50 students at each Summer Games and 30 students at the Winter Games.
In a highly competitive process, the university vets media communication students interested in working at the Olympics before OBS selects the lucky few. Junior Matthew Lively said he first submitted an essay, an application and a résumé to Asbury this past April. His hard work paid off, as he was selected by OBS to fly to Pyeongchang, South Korea, next February for the 2018 Winter Games. Lively is excited about this opportunity: “It feels really cool to know that the skill set that you’ve worked up to is qualification for the job.”
While being selected to work in the Olympics program is an honor, “the best, most educating experiences are the most challenging, and the Olympics are a prime example of that,” 2016 alumna Allison Antram said. Her time at the Rio de Janerio Summer Games was on a team of Asbury student journalists, which works with local news station LEX18 rather than OBS. She affirms that the opportunity to put your classroom knowledge to practice is worth the high-intensity work.
Fellow alumnus Aaron Winnerowski echoed these sentiments as he described his work at the Rio Summer Games as a camera assistant with OBS: “There were days where I felt like I was overlooked or it was too chaotic.” Despite these challenges, Winnerowski described the Olympics program as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The next cohort of Asbury’s OBS employees leaves from Wilmore in a matter of months. According to the university’s website, they will join a reported 600 other Asbury students who have worked at the Olympics in the past 34 years. Antram’s advice to the new recruits? “Work hard, don’t whine, serve well and laugh it off.”
Photos by Rebecca Hurshman